A Perfect World Policeman

Millions of Iraqis lined up to vote in the country's first multiparty elections this Sunday. The American-led invasion in 2003, which was opposed by Russia and several European countries, in less than two years has been followed by the first genuine step towards democracy in Iraq.

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If the antiwar protests and the antiwar coalition in the United Nations had managed to stop the invasion, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today. UN bureaucrats and government officials from the antiwar nations would have continued to collect hefty bribes under the oil-for-food program.

However, the will and determination of U.S. President George W. Bush prevailed, and today we live in a very different world. Neither Bush nor his advisers contemplated fully the consequences of going into Iraq. Military might and firm political will was combined with inadequate intelligence, yet the combination produced a decision that has nevertheless positively affected the lives of millions of people.

Hussein's armies and special forces collapsed under American might in April 2003. At the same time, Iraqi society collapsed, along with the totalitarian state that kept it together by brute force. Islamic terrorists moved in en masse, attacking allied forces and local sympathizers. Radical Islamist web sites boast that during Sunday's elections, 13 suicide bombers killed themselves at polling stations. Nonetheless, the vote went ahead, and voter turnout was good.

Bush's gamble seems to have paid off. It is obviously much more expedient to confront Islamists in the streets of Iraq than the streets of America. The human and material resources of the international Islamic terrorist network are limited, and dedicated suicide bombers are in short supply. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and of Iraq in 2003 may have been two of the main reasons why there have been no terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 2001 and why the suicide bombing campaign in Israel sputtered out. The main focus of battle has moved to Baghdad.

U.S. commanders on the ground in Iraq have demonstrated incredible flexibility in a hostile environment, and this has compensated to some extent for the United States' staggering lack of effective prewar strategic planning and for its inadequate analysis of Iraqi society. During this Sunday's election, the vast majority of Iraqis defied calls to boycott the vote and in effect rejected the Islamist insurgency. Moreover, Iraqi security forces are growing stronger and are manned by volunteers who genuinely hate the Sunni radicals.

The U.S. military has proven it is ready to fight and win in any circumstances, including the most challenging: hand-to-hand and street combat in urban areas. Last year, the U.S. Army and Marines defeated entrenched, well-armed, numerous and highly motivated fighters in Fallujah and Najaf while incurring relatively low casualties themselves. A combination of good training, good morale, good leadership and modern equipment that provides highly effective pinpoint fire support have transformed the U.S. military into a force that can take on virtually any task.

If, in the next year or two, Bush orders an attack on Iran to prevent its theocratic Shiite regime from acquiring nuclear weapons, the Pentagon will be up to the task. An invasion of Iran would cause a total collapse of order, Kurds and other minorities in Iran may rebel, and Shiite clerics in Iraq that now support the United States may call their followers to revolt. The entire Persian Gulf may go up in flames in a replay of the Iraqi postwar mayhem. This time, however, the trouble will be on a much bigger scale. Will this give Washington reason to pause, even if the military could theoretically handle Iran?

We live in a world of unlimited U.S. military supremacy. There are pressing global tasks demanding a dominant power of this kind: The U.S. military is the only hope left today that nuclear weapons united with ballistic missiles will not eventually fall into the hands of the likes of Hussein.

A multipolar world with dozens of nuclear ministates is a world where local nuclear wars will be regular events. The corrupt UN and other international organizations cannot prevent this, just as they could not depose Saddam. Only U.S.-led military forces can act as an effective world policeman.

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst based in Moscow.